During the 2022/2023 academic year, SLP clinical associate professor, Vicki Haddix, and SLP students Laura Sundman, Katie McLarnon, and Brooklynn Berry surveyed faculty and students in the clinical programs to learn about teaching practices within the School. The study considered teaching practices in light of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework for creating rich learning opportunities to improve learning for all students. UDL gives learners multiple ways to engage with (the “why” of learning), represent (the “what” of learning), and apply knowledge or express learning (the “how” of learning).
Professor Haddix’ interest in UDL comes from her experience as a teacher and an SLP and her understanding that students with disabilities often face structural barriers to learning. “I think in a higher education model where students don’t always disclose disabilities and challenges, designing courses to break down as many barriers to learning as possible from the start is an ideal approach,” she explained. “As someone who teaches graduate students about these barriers to learning and how to teach people with communication disorders, I feel I should be modeling best practices,” Vicki shared. “I want students to get as much out of what I teach as they can.”
As students, Sundman, McLarnon, and Berry brought a unique perspective to the study. “We realized a need for this research after noticing a trend of students having difficulty navigating accommodations and learning, in general, in the classroom,” McLarnon said. “After learning about the UDL framework, we found that if these principles were embedded proactively in course structure, many students' difficulties would be eliminated from the front end.”
The study design is based on a similar study by Kennette & Wilson (2019), at a two-year college in Canada. While it had to be tailored to the UofM program setting, the basic design remained the same. The group surveyed faculty about UDL strategies they used in course design and what faculty thought was useful to students, while also surveying students on what UDL elements they noticed in their courses and what they found useful. “The first step was to gain insight into both student and professor perceptions of current course design/accommodation,” McLarnon explained.
Currently, responses from 58 students and from all graduate faculty who teach in the classroom have been received. Haddix and her team will spend time analyzing the data in the fall. Conference sessions and publications are in the works. Brooklynn Berry and Katie McLarnon shared preliminary results and began a UDL discussion with CSD faculty and staff.
McLarnon, Berry, and Sundman are helping to impact future students at this program: “We hope this research offers students and professors an opportunity to collaborate in designing courses and fostering optimal learning conditions.” Haddix has also shared that a purpose of the study was to consider the learning experience of CSD students with disabilities. “We know that more and more students with disabilities are entering graduate school and becoming fantastic SLPs and AUDs and amazing advocates for their clients. We hope the information in this research can help our program as well as other programs target important changes to make sure graduate school is accessible to all their students.”
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Kennette, L. N., & Wilson, N. A. (2019). Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Student and Faculty Perceptions. Journal of Effective Teaching in Higher Education, 2(1), 1–26. https://doi.org/10.36021/jethe.v2i1.17